How To Do Research

Do Research Before Coming

What is the difference between a primary and a secondary source?

Knowing what to look for in the finding aids involves having a basic knowledge of a topic. Conducting research in secondary sources first helps researchers find the relevant primary sources in the Library’s collections. Primary sources are documentation of an event from observers or participants at the time the event occurred. An example of a primary source is a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on weapons of mass destruction. Secondary sources describe, analyze, and/or interpret these events using primary sources. An example of a secondary source is a book discussing the NIE, how it impacted events at the time, and how it reflected the intelligence the government had at the time. Consulting secondary sources on a topic allows researchers to know what to look for at the archives and in the primary sources. Scholars often cite their sources in their scholarship, thus enabling other researchers to find them in the Library’s collections.

Steps to Perform Research:

  1. Consult secondary sources on the topic, if available.

  2. Look at the Library’s website to view what is available for research, including consulting the finding aids and looking at the topic guides

  3. Perform as much research as possible online, which includes viewing collections in the digital library. While the digital library does not provide all of what the Library has available to research, it is an invaluable resource for many researchers before they come to do research in person.

  4. Search the National Archives Catalog (NAC). Most of the Library’s digital holdings are here and are keyword searchable.

  5. Utilize the archived White House website. In January 2009, the White House archived its website as a way to preserve the online presence of the Administration of President George W. Bush. This archived website provides access to primary sources including photographs, speeches, press releases, and other public records of the Bush Presidency from 2001 - 2009. 

  6. Consult with an archivist on the topic. Many archivists have specialized knowledge and can suggest places to look or keywords to search. Email the Library’s reference team at gwbush.library@nara.gov.

  7. Look at the Plan Your Research Visit page before visiting the Library to become familiar with research room policies and procedures.


NEXT: Know What To Expect In The Research Room

PDF files require the free Adobe Reader.

  • Print Print


 DigitalLibrary-2 cropped  

Check out the Digital Library, an online collection of Presidential records! It makes your research easier and faster!



Brochure for the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum available to download.